Academic Cover Letter: Writing Cover Letters That Fit

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When writing cover letters to a college or university, you need to write an academic cover letter, which differs from the traditional cover letter. Typically, the length is longer and many more details are incorporated into the body of the letter. A letter of this type presents why you would make a good teacher or researcher, and each letter is tailored to the audience and the specific school and/or department.

To write a good academic cover letter, you must do the following:

  • Plan ahead
  • Familiarize yourself with the school and department
  • Tailor the academic cover letter to each school

Planning ahead to write your academic cover letter

Having a starting point for an academic cover letter makes tailoring it for multiple positions easier, so start early. Even when there is not a particular position that interests you, start preparing your curriculum vitae (CV) and academic cover letter.

Familiarizing yourself with the school and department

Writing cover letters involves personalizing the letter for each position, and an academic cover letter is no different. Learn as much as you can about the school and department of a position that interests you.

You should be able to answer the following questions prior to starting your academic cover letter:

  • Is the school research oriented, teaching oriented or both?
  • What research interests the faculty? Have members of the faculty published research?
  • What degrees do faculty members hold?
  • Are classes more lecture or seminar based?
  • What classes are offered? What about special classes?
  • What is the student body like? (diversity, common interests, background)

The answers to these questions are found by studying an institution’s website, relevant faculty and department websites, course catalogs, academic directories and syllabi or by asking questions.

Writing cover letters tailored to specific schools

How you organize your academic cover letter can depend on the type of school to which you are applying. Many four-year colleges and universities are more research focused. Community colleges, on the other hand, are most interested in how you intend to teach. The following is information to include for each type of school.

Research colleges and four-year universities
1. Discuss your research first
2. Explain how the institution benefits from your work
3. Show the significance of your work to the academic community as a whole
4. Include at least one full paragraph about your dissertation

Community Colleges
1. Start with your teaching experience and teaching philosophy
2. Talk about the community, community involvement and how you intend to meet
community needs
3. Talk about your research interests

Writing cover letters tailored to a job notice

In addition to tailoring academic cover letters to specific institutions, you also need to tailor them to the job notice itself when writing cover letters. As you progressed through your graduate studies, your area of concentration became more focused. Show how your dissertation, classes, presentations and experiences translate to a particular position in a broad sense, even if your dissertation was on a similar, but different topic within the same field.

Format of an academic cover letter

The length of an academic cover letter is longer than a regular cover letter. Expect your letter to be at least two pages. Write the letter in a traditional business letter format, with the name, position, department and name of the department head or person heading the search committee. If you do not know this information, call the institution to learn it.

The first paragraph of your academic cover letter is essentially the same regardless of the type of institution. How you present the information after the first paragraph depends on the job notice to which you are responding and the type of institution. However, your first paragraph should include the following information:

  • State the position for which you are applying and where you learned of the opening
  • Mention the professor by name with whom you have had the most contact/dealings
    during your graduate studies
  • Mention your graduation or completion date
  • Make it clear why you are a good candidate for the position (you back this up in the
    body of the letter)

After the first paragraph, your focus depends on the type of institution to which you are applying. However, the following information goes into the body of the letter at some point, but the location may change with the institution type:

  • Information about your dissertation
  • Teaching philosophy
  • Connections between your teaching philosophy and research interests
  • Relevant teaching experience
  • Course materials you have online
  • References to particular information in your curriculum vitae

The closing paragraph of your academic cover letter expresses your willingness to forward any additional materials or information. In addition, include contact information for any periods where you intend to be out of town or in a specific location. This is also a good place to mention any conferences you plan on attending and expressing a willingness to interview if the relevant faculty members are also present. In addition, mention any connections you have to the institution or the surrounding community.

Writing cover letters is an important part of applying for a position, and with academic cover letters, this is even more true. This is your first shot at making a good impression. Whenever possible, send your letter and curriculum vitae well in advance of a deadline; it is more likely to receive a more thorough look. Planning ahead, getting to know the institution to which you are applying and tailoring your academic cover letter is vitally important in helping you land the research or teaching position you covet.